How to set the tone for an inclusive culture

03 January 2020
LeadershipEquality, Diversity and InclusionEmpathy
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Lucy Caldicott, Founder of ChangeOut, reflects in this blog on the top things for senior leaders to think about when ensuring that their organisation maintains an inclusive culture.

Overhaul recruitment with inclusion in mind

If looking out at your fundraising team, you see a team that isn’t very diverse, you may be thinking that the first thing to look at is recruitment. Having been responsible for recruiting hundreds of fundraisers, either directly and indirectly, over the years, I agree but I think that it is also vital to put in place a thoughtful and planned approach to retention, alongside recruitment, in order to ensure a positive difference on inclusion. Sadly, I’ve heard too many stories from people from backgrounds that are under-represented in the voluntary sector being subjected to exclusionary, even discriminatory behaviour, and not staying long in their roles. It’s therefore irresponsible to embark on diverse recruitment without ensuring inclusivity and planning for retention and progression.

What does an inclusive culture mean, and how do you as a leader play a role in setting the tone?

An inclusive culture is one in which everyone feels able to be themselves, where no one feels they have to adapt or hide aspects of themselves. Think about how everyone’s difference adds and contributes to a culture which is fluid, rather than set. Leaders play a key role in setting the tone so if you are able to be open yourself that will help. If you are able to remember personal things about your team members, that will help too. Set a tone and set a mood. Help your staff to feel they are working with you, not for you. Be part of the team alongside them, celebrating successes, discussing disappointments. Don’t hide away in your office. Show how important everyone is to the team. Don’t play favourites. Be thoughtful about how you celebrate those successes. Not everyone in the team is able to have the big wins, sometimes celebrating the successes that are little and often has more impact.

Listen to team members

How do you know what’s going on in your teams? Spend time and effort getting to know what’s going on, whether that’s through staff surveys, team conversations, or 1:1 meetings. Encourage people to talk to you by being open and approachable and when you’re listening to them, listen properly. Be visible to your team members. If you sit in an office and everyone else is open plan, think about whether you can sit with them most of the time and only use the office for meetings or phone calls when you need privacy. You’ll get a far better sense of what is going on.

Consistent approaches to team management and progression

It’s really important that as a leader you ensure that the line managers under you are applying consistent approaches to managing their teams. It’s all too common for one team to have regular 1:1s with their manager and for another to find that their manager regularly cancels theirs. Turn some 1:1s into career planning conversations and make sure all managers in teams are doing this. At least once a year, if not once every six. I always want to know where my direct reports see their careers heading, and see this as a joint planning exercise, rather than a conversation to be shied away from. If you do this, you’ll get a better sense of the ambitions of everyone in the team, not just those that are more confident in expressing them.

Make sure that you’re providing equality of opportunity across all team members. Often people are “given” acting up opportunities without a consistent and fair process. Make sure you don’t fall into that trap because you’ve got a vacancy that you’re under pressure to fill quickly.


Now let’s look at that pressure to fill vacancies quickly. Fundraisers are always trying to fill gaps quickly which holds them back from reviewing the requirements of the role and trialling different approaches to filling it. In order to create time for doing things differently, why not plan for the inevitable turnover in the first place? Many people in fundraising team management roles cite pressure of targets as being a driver to not taking time to recruit more thoughtfully and creatively in different places. Build in this time for vacancies into your target setting and planning so you’re not perpetuating the same old recruitment methods to recruit like for like. Work with your HR colleagues on this so that you can plan proactively rather than reactively.

Here’s to a fantastic equal, diverse, and inclusive new decade for fundraising and the wider sector!

Lucy Caldicott
Lucy Caldicott
Founder of ChangeOut
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